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Vain Aspirations and Kingdom Culture

For the inauguration of President Biden a few weeks ago, a poem was read by Amanda Gorman, Youth Poet Laureate, entitled, “The Hill We Climb.” Leaving literary criticism to others, I wish to reflect upon a single line in the poem: “Scripture tells us to envision that, ‘everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.’”

The Scripture is Micah 4:4. Here the prophet is describing divine deliverance in the last days, and the context is extremely significant: what the “Scripture tells us to envision” is the exaltation of the one true God, figured in the elevation of His holy mountain (v.1), and the universal dissemination of the knowledge of God (v.2), and—in such context—universal peace and prosperity (vv.3-4). It is, indeed, a wonderful eschatological vision, and we would do well to envision it.

But it is not a vision consonant with the cultural headwinds of contemporary America. The glories of the prophesied epoch are both consummated by and built upon the exaltation of the one true God; God’s glory founds, surmounts, and surrounds all the delights of the age to come. The prophesied peace and prosperity does not crown a culture of pluralistic idolatry—there are other prophecies for that (e.g. Micah 5:10-15). Sitting under one’s own vine and fig tree (v.4) comes together with a universal pursuit of God’s will, “that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (v.2). It is absurd to envision this future while—to allude to just a couple of policy objectives of the incoming administration—denying God’s design for humanity and destroying innocent human life in the womb.

That is the great dissonance that echoes behind the selective appropriation (?!) of the divine promises in the context of idolatry and immorality. As reported by Alexandra Desanctis in National Review, “Sponsoring a Flag at Today’s Inaugeration Sends a Donation to Planned Parenthood.” Does a civics that alludes to the worship of Molech reasonably expect the blessing of Yahweh?

The proper application of this observation is to remember that eschatological vision prescribes present faithfulness. Micah 4:4 in the context of America today is a call to repentance. The age to come comes by the glorious work of the child born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), not by any labors of ours, and certainly not by secular pluralistic ideologies. There is a present foretaste and an ultimate fulfillment of this promised peace and prosperity—for all who will have it. But, for a culture chasing idols, all such aspirations are vain.

For those who will have it, there is another culture, within and without the cultures of this world; there is a kingdom ever advancing, life-giving, loyal and good. For those who belong to that kingdom, and hope to inherit its promises, it is imperative to live in its culture. Without withdrawing from the world, while still pragmatic in politics and active in society, the people of God can inhabit the culture they long for in the present. That, I suggest, is the way forward in 2021 and beyond.

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